Category Archives: Teen & YA fiction

Book Review: Revolt provides rousing conclusion to the Resistance Series

Revolt, the fourth book in the Resistance Series by Tracy Lawson

Tracy Lawson and the Resistance Series is what Indie publishing is all about: Giving voice to new ideas, stories and passions and a distribution platform to get those creative works into the hands of readers. Her fourth book in the series, Revolt, brings the dystopian story of Careen Catecher and Tommy Bailey to a stirring conclusion that stays true to its Young Adult themes and characters but refuses to wrap-up the aftermath in a tight, pretty bow.

In Counteract, the first book (reviewed here), we met teenage college students Careen Catecher and Tommy Bailey, a former high school football player sidelined by an injury from a mysterious car accident. They are living in a near future (2030s) dystopian world where the national Office of Civilian Safety and Defense has been charged with “protecting” the public from terrorist attacks. Under the threat of a chemical terrorist attack, the OCSD developed and deployed a serum to protect citizens from its effects. Everyone is required to be inoculated  for their own protection. Careen and Tommy, however, discover that the antidote is actually a mind control drug used by the leaders of the OCSD to take control of the country. They are reluctant resisters. Tommy’s parents were supposedly killed in a car accident, leaving him to recover by himself. But Careen’s parents have disappeared, and Tommy joins her in trying to find them. 

Resist, book two in the Resistance Series

In book two, Resist (reviewed here), Careen and Tommy are on the run from the government after Careen is accused of killing the OCSD director, Lowell Stratford. They find themselves inadvertent and at first unwilling members of a nationwide Resistance movement. The nefarious ways of the OCSD become even more stark as the new director, Madalyn, continues to develop and deploy a serum that will extend mind control to the entire population. Careen and Tommy have different views on how to address the sinister plans of the OCSD, driving a wedge in their relationship that could be come permanent.

This theme continues throughout the series as we find the Resistance is less unified than those from the outside think. Resist brings the question of violent versus peaceful resistance to the forefront of the  story, representing a fundamental tension that ultimately leads to the dramatic climax in Revolt. Careen and Tommy both set out to disrupt the OCSD, but they end up the inadvertent victims of an explosion set by a rogue member of the Resistance.

Ignite (the third book reviewed here) takes us deep into the Resistance. Of the three books, Ignite might be the most traditionally “young adult” of this series. The character arcs of Tommy and Careen become more intertwined and complicated. Careen was wounded in an explosion at the end of Resist, and was captured by the OCSD. As the nation’s number one fugitive, Careen’s capture represents a coup for Madalyn…and an opportunity to manipulate public opinion in her favor. Madalyn breaks Careen down through torture and deprivation, ultimately convincing her that the Resistance is the real enemy. Careen becomes a spokesperson for the OCSD as Madalyn rebuilds her identity around the values and mission of the OCSD. Meanwhile, Tommy Bailey hides out in the mountains with other leaders of the Resistance looking for his opportunity to rescue her. Ultimately, Tommy embarks on his own mission to rescue Careen.

Ignite, book three is the Resistance Series

Meanwhile, Madalyn has shifted gears, moving from a chemical-based strategy for controlling the population to one based on 24-hour surveillance through a device called the Cerberean Link. Sold to the public as a way to protect children from starvation and illness, Madalyn envisions a world where everyone is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Working with Atari, a brilliant IT guru, she plans hijack the link for her own power and personal gain. Careen is one of the first people to be installed with the device, putting her own future, freedom and independence in doubt.

Revolt picks up immediately after Careen’s rescue by Tommy, and Lawson uses this as an opportunity to explore the deep, psychological trauma that afflicts those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Tommy’s patience is tested as Careen wrestles with night terrors, paranoia about being tested by Madalyn about her loyalty to the OCSD, and her own struggles to recover her identity and sense of purpose. The Resistance continues to fracture as one faction stays on course for violent revolution and another attempts a nonviolent political solution. The wild card in the story is the flawed but gifted Atari who appears to be a Resistance agent but could be working a double cross. Atari’s sense of self-importance keeps readers on the edge throughout the fourth book, never quite knowing which side he is more loyal to. While Lawson’s ending should leave most readers satisfied, she’s left openings for future books and storylines. 

Author Tracy Lawson

Lawson has created a vibrant, near-future dystopian world that fits well within the Young Adult science fiction genre and issues relevant to our times. Her willingness to grapple with substance directly gives the plots and storylines an embedded complexity that allow her characters to develop steadily and three dimensionally over the series. Her lean writing style keeps the pace fast and momentum forward. For those interested in a fast-paced, modern telling of the dangers of government overreach, the implications for personal freedoms and civil liberties, and how those values manifest themselves in the choices we make on a daily basis, Lawson’s dystopian series provides a great ride and lots of food for thought and discussion. 

For more on Tracy Lawson, visit her author page at amazon.com or her website, www.TracyLawsonBooks.com.

 

 

Take advantage of these special deals July 17-21 courtesy of Tracy Lawson:

Counteract: Book One of the Resistance Series FREE!

Resist: Book Two of the Resistance Series and

Ignite: Book Three of the Resistance Series for 0.99 each!

Get a FREE PDF of Shatter: Tommy’s Prequel to the Resistance Series, which includes a gallery of the amazing artwork created for the series! This prequel will NOT be available on Amazon.

Here’s how it works:

Order Revolt: Book Four of the Resistance Series on Amazon for $2.99:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071S8KFML

Email your receipt to tracy@counteractbook.com, and in return you’ll receive Shatter: Tommy’s Prequel to the Resistance Series.

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Florida’s top local young-adult authors

Tortuga Bay takes home three awards in 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award competition.

National authors are easy to spot–they are the ones on the best-seller lists of the New York Times, USA Today, and other national publications. But what about local authors? These writers are often unknown and lack the national distribution networks of big publishers, but they also produce exceptional work from small and independent presses. The problem for readers (and bookstores) is assessing the quality of their work in a crowded field. One way to set them apart is to look at their performance in literary competitions that are referred by independent judges.

Florida Literary Competitions

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President’s Awards

Fortunately, several organizations exist in Florida that hold statewide competitions. These competitions generate hundreds of submissions from Florida authors and publishers, but they award top prizes to just a few.  The better literary competitions employ rubrics that independent judges use for numeric scoring to rank submissions. These rubrics generate overall scores that must meet certain minimum thresholds before a book can advance in the competition.

I examined data on the first, second, and third place awards for three established statewide literary competitions: The Florida Book Awards (FBA) hosted by Florida State University, the President’s Awards run by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association (FAPA), and the Royal Palm Literary Awards (RPLA) hosted by the Florida Writers Association. I then analyzed the places earned by Florida authors and ranked them by the number of wins.

Since a first place is generally considered superior in quality to second place (and third place), a first place award was given 10 points, a second place award 5 points, and a third place award 3 points. Thus, an author who earned two first place awards would score 20 points, and an author who earned a first place and a second place award would score 15.

These competitions, of course, are not inclusive of all authors. Authors may not submit their books because they are unaware of the competitions, find the entry fees too costly, don’t need or want the visibility, or already have an established marketing and distribution platform. Nevertheless, as a general indicator, placing well multiple times in a competitive literary contest is probably a reasonable indicator of quality.

Full disclosure: I have done well in recent literary competitions, albeit in multiple categories, and have won awards in the FAPA (Tortuga Bay), RPLA (Tortuga Bay, St. Nic, Inc.), and Seven Hills Literary Competition (Renegade) run by the Tallahassee Writers Association (and not included in the rankings for this article). The results below are based on the methodology above which focuses exclusively on weighted, numeric scoring.

Florida Young Adult Author Rankings

The FBA, FAPA, and RPLA competitions provide lists of all award winners going back several years. I wanted to capture active writers and those committed to the Florida literary scene. Thus, the rankings include only those for the last five years.

Since 2011, 53 authors have received first, second, or third place awards from one of these three organizations. Just six have received multiple awards. The top five young adult authors were multi-award winners and placed first in at least one competition, and are

  1. Leslee Horner (Tallahassee), coming of age, http://lesleehorner.com
  2. SR Staley (Tallahassee), action adventure, http://www.srstaley.com
  3. Jade Kerrion (Orlando), science fiction, fantasy, http://jadekerrion.com
  4. Kyle Prue (Naples), fantasy, http://kyleprue.com.
  5. M.R. Street (Tallahassee), coming of age, horror,  http://turtlecovepress.com  

Leslee Horner’s work is notable since her books have taken home four awards–the most of all authors entering the competitions–in the young adult categories in FAPA and FBA competitions. Honorable mention also goes to Alex Finn (http://alexfinn.com), also a multiple award winner (although not first place).

Other Florida authors who earned first place awards in one of these competitions included:

  • Gino Bardi
  • Mary Dawson
  • Dennis Cooper
  • Debbie Reed Fisher
  • Carl Hiassen
  • Christina Diaz Gonzalez
  • Shaun David Hutchinson
  • Joe Iriarte
  • Linda Kelley
  • Madeline Kuderick
  • Alison McMahan
  • Mark McWaters
  • K.B. Schaller
  • Ryan Van Cleave
  • Rick Yancey

Future blog posts will include rankings for the categories of historical fiction, mainstream/literary and thriller/suspense.

For additional information on the rankings, contact Sam Staley at sam@srstaley.com.

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Isabella and Tortuga Bay closes out 2016 with a boom!

Literary Competition Results: 2016

Tortuga Bay Literary Competition Results: 2016

The year 2016 will be logged as one of the most successful in my writing fiction writing career, as Tortuga Bay takes how three first place wins, two second place finishes, and two additional finalist spots in literary in national and statewide literary competitions.

These were not small wins, either. We started out the year with a bang, when Tortuga Bay earned a category finalist spot in the Eric Hoffer book awards, a competition that generates more than 1,200 submissions. I estimate that this put Tortuga Bay in the top 10% of submissions.

Then, in August, we found out the results of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Awards. FAPA’s competition generated nearly 400 entries from across the nation. Tortuga Bay placed first in Young Adult Fiction and Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult.

And now, in October, we were in Orlando to accept several awards in the Royal Palm Literary Awards sponsored by the 1,500 strong Florida Writers Association. the first place award for Published Historical Fiction, second place award for Published Mainstream/Literary Fiction, and second place award for Published Young Adult/New Adult Fiction.  This year’s competition attracted 480 submissions, mainly from Florida authors and members of the FWA. About 140 authors made it into the final rounds based on a rubric used for scoring each submission and tallying up their points.

Isabella’s story has proven to be a robust one that attracts readers from across genres—young adult, adult, new adult, women’s fiction, mainstream, action/adventure, among others.

Buy Tortuga Bay (or The Pirate of Panther Bay) from SYP Publishing, amazon.com (Kindle or print), bn.com (Nook or print), walmart.com, or other on-line retailers.

 

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Isabella sails into gold at the FAPA President’s Awards

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President's Awards

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President’s Awards

Tortuga Bay continues to generate enthusiasm and accolades as 2016 moves into its final months. Earlier, Isabella and her crew fought their way to recognition as a Category Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Tortuga Bay has also made it into the final rounds of the Royal Palm Literary Awards (final results will be released in October). Now, her crew earned gold medals in two categories of the President’s Award competition hosted by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Both awards came in Young Adult (YA) categories. This first category was Young Adult Fiction, a broad category that would have her compete among many other books and subgenres. The second category was in YA Romance, Coming of Age, and New Adult.

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Fiction

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Fiction

Tortuga Bay (and the Pirate of Panther Bay series) are showing a broad appeal. While all the results are not in, the story has made it into the RPLA finals under Published Fiction—Mainstream/Literary. That means the novel is competing against a wide range of novels, in and outside the young adult category. In addition, Tortuga Bay made it into the RPLA semi-finals in the categories of YA historical fiction, women’s fiction, and YA romance.

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult

Gold medal certificate for Young Adult Romance/Coming of Age/New Adult

FAPA’s awards have a lot of integrity. Unlike some other competitions, FAPA does not feel obligated to hand out awards to books based on the number of submissions in a category. Each book is judged and evaluated numerically based on a rubric. In order to become a finalist, the book has to meet a minimum numerical threshold from the judges. Specific thresholds are also necessary to qualify as bronze, silver or gold. Some categories, in fact, didn’t have any medalists. Other categories didn’t have any gold medals awarded, and others didn’t have bronze or silver medal awards. So, winners have confidence that their award was based on an absolute measure of quality (although scores are still subjective) that are compared equally across other submissions.

Thus, we are particularly proud to have earned these gold medals.

To buy Tortuga Bay, check out amazon.com or SYP Publishing.

For more on the series and how it can be used in the classroom, check out my website: http://www.srstaley.com/pirate-of-panther-bay.html

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Tracy Lawson’s “Ignite” piles on action, conspiracy and ideas

Lawson,InciteI have previously reviewed Tracy Lawson’s first and second books (Counteract and Resist) in her dystopian Resistance Series, and I am enjoying how her story is arcing and taking shape.

In Ignite, the third book, the characters are becoming more complex, their personal struggles more nuanced. The plot is not just thickening, it’s becoming more layered. New, quirky characters are added with enough foreboding and mystery to keep us hooked. All these are signs of a series that is maturing and is growing with its readership.

One of the great benefits of science fiction, and YA dystopian literature in particular, is the ability to create worlds that grapple with larger issues that can be difficult to address in contemporary novels. The Hunger Games may be one of the most famous examples, where Suzanne Collins used her novels to explore the effects of violence on children, power, and society. Lawson—winner of the 2016 Best YA Fiction award from the Texas Writers Association—follows in this tradition although her ideas are more straightforward and more clearly embedded in the plot.

Tracy Lawson, author of the Resistance Series

Tracy Lawson, author of the Resistance Series

The premise of the series is actually not that fantastical—another trait of good science fiction. Using the threat of imminent terrorist threats, including biological attack, the federal government has developed a serum that inoculates the public against the threat. In truth, public officials use it to control the population. One of the more fascinating subplots is how these public officials seize control of the government apparatus by essentially sidestepping the traditional policy making process. The country still has an elected president, but the real power is in the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense (OCSD). Anyone who has observed the growing power of the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection since the 1970s will have no trouble believing this kind of political ninjitsu (but this is another story for another blog).

Ignite picks up where Resist’s cliff hanger left the reader—the lead character Careen Catecher has been wounded in an explosion that destroyed the student center at the local university (geographically in the Midwest). She is captured, and as a leader of The Resistance she is a coveted prize for the nefarious leader of the OSCD, Madalyn. Meanwhile, Tommy Bailey hides out in the mountains with other leaders of The Resistance looking for his opportunity to rescue her.

While Ignite continues the star-crossed love story of Tommy and Careen—and the most important thread that holds the series together—its role as the literary vehicle that carries the tension and plot of series becomes more clear as the fourth novel ratchets up conspiracies to new levels. The conspiracies challenge Tommy and Careen, but also relationships between families, allies, and enemies.

But Lawson adds a substantive twist to this series and story that is rare in contemporary literature outside of authors such as Ayn Rand—she fuses economic and political commentary into the plot and character arcs. As times become more desperate, the government has seized control of the “commanding heights” of the economy, particularly food production and distribution. The government has banned private grocery stories to prevent price gauging and to ensure fair and equitable distributions of food (and, of course, give the government more control over the distribution of their mind control drug).

But this strategy backfires because Lawson understands economics. She uses basic economic principles to lay the foundation for growing civil unrest, something we’ve seen over and over again in real life. Lawson cleverly uses access to an essential commodity—food—to show the inevitable social and economic dysfunction that arises when policymakers fail to remember that one single entity can’t coordinate the distribution of goods to meet consumer desires and needs efficiently. Inevitably, the product that the central authority—usually the government—attempts to control, becomes more scarce. When policymakers ignore this insight, gleaned from way too much human tragedy in history, shortages result. (Think Venezuela today, but also North Korea or Cuba, or the former Soviet Union.) The masses are deprived of basic goods and services while the politically connected have privileged access. If the shortages persist, civil unrest is often inevitable. The OCSD is not immune from these economic principles, which are robust enough to almost be called laws.

While some of the dialogue tends toward the Randianesque—focusing on content more than action—the tension created by this dynamic propels the plot so the reader gets a healthy dose of ideas on top of emotional tension and conflict. Whether Lawson’s YA readers will grasp this substance has yet to be seen, but so far the Resistance Series has been selling. Regardless, by adding this substance, Lawson adds complexity that reflects a literary evolution of the series that will suit her readers as they mature with the books.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the first two books, Lawson is promoting the third book with a free giveaway of the first two books (in ebook versions July 19-20, buy Ignite: Book 3 of the Resistence Series from amazon (http://amzn.to/295WBYY). Then, send the receipt to tracy@counteractbook.com. She’ll then send you free downloads of the first two books for free.

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Totuga Bay makes final round of FAPA President’s Awards!

TortugaBaywEHAFresh off her success in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards, where Tortuga Bay was a category Finalist, Isabella is sailing her ship into the final round of another award: The President’s Awards offered up by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association, or FAPA. This rollicking action adventure through the Caribbean into the Straights of Jaimaica and Port-au-Prince, Haiti qualified in Young Adult Fiction. This means Tortuga Bay will earn either a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal. We won’t know which one until the FAPA annual conference and awards ceremony on August 6, 2016 in Orlando.

Tortuga Bay and the Pirate of Panther Bay series is showing amazing crossover appear. Isabella and her crew are making their way through the Royal Palm Literary Awards, jumping into the semi-final round in two categories: Mainstream/Literary and Women’s fiction. We won’t know if she made it into the final rounds for a few more weeks. Last year, St. Nic, Inc. won 2nd place in the the category of published Mainstream/Literary fiction. The final awards for the RPLA are announced at the Florida Writers Association annual conference in Orlando, Florida from October 20-23, 2016.RPLA_16_SemiFinalist_Badge

Tortuga Bay is available in print and digital editions on amazon, bn.com and other on-line retailers as well as through Southern Yellow Pine Publishing.

 

 

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Dystopian literature and the reality of apocalypse

SR Staley standing before the iconic image of the atomic bomb's aftermath: the A-Bomb Dome.

SR Staley standing before the iconic image of the atomic bomb’s aftermath: the A-Bomb Dome.

I recently spent some time at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. This is a transformative experience for many people because it’s the first time they connect the horrors of war to their lives in a tangible way. I can’t say I was transformed–I contemplate and reflect on violence a lot in my writing, whether it’s Isabella’s ethical struggles with death and life, Luke’s attempt to combat bullies, or the effects of campus sexual assault–but I found several elements of the peace park sobering and humbling. The atomic bomb truly was horrific in its ability to concentrate power, suffering, and obliterate human existence.

I’ve written more extensively about this on the Independent Institute’s blog, The Beacon, noting,

While many visitors to the peace park see the A-Bomb Dome as the iconic symbol of the horrors of total war, I didn’t find it a compelling image. It’s a building. The real horrors of war on what it does to human beings and our ability to create, innovate, and improve our lives. The Dome represents the destruction of physical space, and indirectly places. Dystopian YA novels get it right: The horrors of war are really human tragedies.

In Hiroshima alone, thousands of children were killed, most instantly, when the bomb blew up. Many of the survivors had to live in a world that is strikingly similar to the post-apocalyptic worlds in which novels such as The Hunger GamesDivergent, and The Fifth Wave are set. In someways, many contemporary dystopian novels are, perhaps, imaginations of a world in which humans failed to show the restraint they did in the aftermath of World War II.

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Tris Prior is more than just a buff, kick-butt character

divergent-poster-full I know that books typically have more depth than films, but YA fiction has tended toward the simplistic and straightforward rather than the complex and layered. Thus, I’ve written the last two posts on the Divergent film series, thinking that the books were not that much more complex than the books (see here and here). I was wrong. Or at least I am revising my thoughts based on the first of Veronica Roth’s novels in the series.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the book version of Divergent had a lot more going on than than a kick-butt heroine finding herself among the rubble of post-apocalyptic Chicago. Actually, the character of Tris Prior had a lot more going on. I have already written about how Tris is a much stronger heroine than Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games series. My belief if more firmly entrenched now that I’ve read Divergent.

Veronica Roth has given Tris a grand character arc that establishes her female protagonist as a deep thinker motivated by ideas. She just doesn’t want to be brave, she aspires to the nobility implied in selflessness for a higher cause. Hence, she carries the tattoos of both Dauntless, her chosen faction, and Abnegation, her family’s faction (which she never completely leaves emotionally). Indeed, her discovery and reconciliation of these “divergent” aspirations via her romantic relationship with fellow Dauntless faction member Four becomes a primary element of her identity as she leads the rebellion against Erudite. This is a far more subtle and meaningful transformation than that Katniss undergoes in the more survivalist focused Hunger Games.

Seeing Tris on this journey via Roth’s words was an unexpected pleasure, and elevates her to one of my favorite heroines in fiction.

Tortuga-Bay-RGB-96-01Other heroines worth reading in fiction? Try

 

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Where do good female characters come from?

TrisAllegiantposterWhile recently researching blog posts about the Divergent film series, I ran across a 2011 blog post from Veronica Roth, the author of the novels, that also discussed the origin of Tris Prior, her kick-butt female protogonist.  Many readers might think that Tris was always the center of the story, but not so! Here’s what Ms. Roth writes:

“…Divergent really happened when a bunch of these pieces of inspiration suddenly coalesced in my mind as I was writing, and I got about thirty pages of a story from Four’s perspective down, and then set it aside because it wasn’t so good. It was only when I discovered Beatrice that I was able to write the full book, four years later.”

The observation that caught my attention was that she had started writing Four’s (Tobias Eaton’s) story, not Tris’s. But it was boring so she stopped, and didn’t get back to it until four years later!

Pirate-of-Panther-Bay-RGB96Her experience is strikingly similar to mine when I was crafting The Pirate of Panther Bay back in 2000. At the time, I was writing a young-adult romance about pirates because I thought it would be exciting and different. The protogonist started out as a male. But after about 50 pages (I got further than Ms. Roth), I put the manuscript down because it was boring! My story was just another pirate trolling through the Caribbean for loot. Ugh.

I am not sure how Ms. Roth “found” Beatrice, but Isabella’s “birth” was actually quite analytical. Since I was writing fiction, and story turns on conflict, I asked myself what would happen if I made the pirate captain female? The story became much more interesting, because virtually any plot putting a woman at the center in a leadership position in the 1780s was going to create conflict and tension. This was particularly true on pirate ships where crews were superstitious and almost always banned women on their vessels. For Isabella to get on the boat in the first place, she would have to overcome significant hurdles. She would also have to be strong–she couldn’t be a stowaway or consort, or start out in a typical role. The path to the captaincy of a pirate ship simply couldn’t take that route.

More importantly, the conflicts created a fascinating story line that allowed me to really flesh out Isabella’s character as well as the major male protagonists. Each of the major characters had a dramatic arc and singular journey that would feed of each other. The results have been great, particularly in the most recent installment, Tortuga Bay.

I hope Veronica Roth talks more about the literary beginnings of Beatrice Prior. I found her character to be very similar to Isabella in terms of personality and temperament.

Now, if I can just get The Pirate of Panther Bay made into a major motion picture….

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Katniss vs. Tris: Who is the stronger character?

KatnissVSTrisAs the DC Comics superhero clash movie Superman Vs. Batman hits the theaters this weekend, I began to think about some of the stronger female characters in recent young adult action books and films. More specifically, we now have a new heroine to consider with the release of Alligiant, the third movie in the Divergent series: Tris Prior.

We will explore two questions: Whether Tris a strong female character and whether Tris is a stronger character than Katniss Everdeen.

In a previous post, I argued that Katniss Everdeen is not a particularly strong character based on a few key criteria. I believe strong characters, male or female, human or alien, should:

  1. Have strong identities;
  2. Relates to peers as a peer;
  3. Make important choices;
  4. Take personal responsibility;
  5. Exhibit courage.

These characteristics allow the protogonist to influence the trajectory of the story, and I think this is essential for a character to be considered strong, rather than weak (or passive).

Characters don’t have to start out strong in each of these criteria, but they should grow into them or end strong on each characteristics them before the story ends or progresses too far. Katniss Everdeen, despite her reputation among fans, falls short on a number of these criteria. She doesn’t have a strong sense of herself or place and appears emotionally and physically weak among her peers. She does make a few important choices, but even the most important ones–like taking her sister’s place during the lottery for the Hunger Games–are driven by circumstances rather than an exertion of her own free will. She plays defense rather than offense. On a good note, she takes personal responsibility for her actions, and she exhibits a tremendous amount of courage. Nevertheless, in literature and the films, all these criteria need to be met before she can be considered a truly strong character. Courage is not enough.

So, how does Tris Prior, the heroine in the Divergent books and films, stack up against Katniss? I decided to apply the same rubric to test my own framework, and here are the results:

Characteristic Katniss Everdeen Tris Prior
Strong identity

weak

Medium-Strong
Relate to peers as a peer

weak

Strong

Make important choices

medium

Strong

Take personal responsibility

strong

Strong

Exhibit courage

strong

Strong

While these comparisons always carry some degree of subjectivity, I think Tris Prior is a stronger character than Katniss Everdeen on a number of different metrics. While she faces the uncertainty of the psychological aptitude test to determine which faction best suits her, she opts for Dauntless even though the tests are inconclusive. She enters her training determined to be equal if not superior to her peers, and she is unafraid to make choices–whether to flee, return to Chicago, or track down her nemesis to kill them to avoid greater tragedies from taking place. She also never flinches from taking responsibility for her actions even when she is unsure of whether she can accomplish the task. She is willing to pursue her objectives even without help. She is on the offense, and doesn’t simply react to events around her; she tries to change the trajectory of those events. Tris, like Katniss, exhibits a tremendous amount of courage throughout her journey. Indeed, this is demonstrated early in the first book/movie when she jumps through the hole in the Dauntless training facility without realizing she would be saved by a net at the bottom.

The biggest difference between the two characters, in my view, is that Tris begins with a stronger personality. She is willing to stand up against injustice,d despite the risks, and she is willing to try to change the trajectory of events. She is not interested in fading into the background. Unlike Katniss, Tris embraces her new skills and identity. While she doesn’t accept the leadership role she creates through her resistance to the authoritarian Erudite rule, she does not try to avoid the responsibility of leadership.

Thus, in the end, Tris is leader and stronger character.

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